The very bad magazine was watching me.
Not literally, of course. It didn’t have eyes. But it did say, very clearly, on the back page, “Yes, you, I am watching you.”
Okay, it was slightly concealed. You had to take the first letter of the second word in each paragraph and put them together to spell out the secret message. But it’s not like I spent a whole lot of time with the article.
The secret message?
And “Intriguing” is a word that has never been applied to the magazine Professional Metal. Ever.
It could just mean that Nathan L. Bingstrom was as bored writing the article as I was reading it. But still…
As, nominally, the head of public relations for Hawley Metals, I am eligible for a complimentary subscription to Professional Metal. This is less impressive than you might think; to be eligible for a complimentary subscription one only has to demonstrate they are somehow connected to the metal-machining industry. The act of ticking a box labeled “I am part of the metal-machining industry” is sufficient proof. A pulse is not required; a while back, the company vice-president died. His subscription continued for six years.
I read every issue, in the sense that I flip through it for several sections until I’m confident that there is nothing interesting. Afterwords, I put it in the break room; the owner (coincidentally enough, my father) likes to think it provides the staff with a continuing education benefit. The staff does not agree and tends to ignore them. No one has the heart to tell dad, though, so there’s a 20-year stalemate of old issues stacked in the corner. I went there and grabbed the most recent year or so.
Nathan L. Bingstrom was in the May issue too, which gave me a place to start. Encoded in the same way was simply “I am watching you.”
April? “I am threatening you.” March? “ Fine this is a threat.” February? “Don’t make me threaten you.”
This is the very first passage I wrote for Exile Issues. Originally I thought it would be the opening section—“The very bad magazine was watching me” is a reasonably gripping opening line, no?—although things have changed as they will.
Inspiration for this comes from a couple of places. I have, in my sordid past, worked for a Very Bad Magazine on the topic of metalworking. In fact, “Professional Metal” is nothing more than a placeholder name that I put in just this second. When I wrote it, I used the actual title of the magazine, although I don’t think it’s wise to keep it that way. I lasted nine really wretched months at that job, and the less said about it, the better.
I never hid any messages in the magazine, even though I did consider it, and probably could have gotten away with it. I don’t think anyone really read it terribly closely except for the other editors. (Who read it far too closely, marking the tiniest things, most of which weren’t wrong, while missing major problems entirely.)
But some magazines, good ones (I’m looking at you, Wired) have on occasion hidden messages for their readers. So Nathan, the transdimensional exile who has managed to acquire employment at this horrible magazine that even the saddest journalism school graduate wouldn’t apply to, decides that it may be a way for him to solicit assistance for his situation without drawing needless attention.